Mending an Unethical Past: Public Relations and Public Humanities

People often use public relations as a synonym for manipulation. And, sadly, history describes a scene of the same flavor. Historically, public relations professionals used their craft to put positive spins on scandals.

For instance, in 2015 the world discovered that Volkswagen cheated on car emissions tests by installing software to trick the system. Instead of honestly addressing the issue and working towards an ethical solution with open communication to all publics, the company denied the claims and insisted the technology was only installed in a few cars. Eventually, it became obvious that Volkswagen was lying, and the unethical pit they had dug grew even deeper.

Because of public relations’ history with similar stories, all budding practitioners need to diligently work to reframe the idea of public relations as a profession.

Because of the negative history, people don’t often say “public relations” and “public humanities” in the same breath. Current scholarship and practice, however, works to clean public relations into a shining symbol of ethical and honest two-way communication. This framework absolutely has its place within public humanities.

Public humanities seeks to connect the public through scholarship, projects, and conversations, all of which requires ethical public relations for effective implementation. In fact, one could argue that public humanities serves as the ideal platform to further reinvent public relations into a respected practice, moving away from its manipulative ancestor.

Public humanities focuses on effectively deepening the human experience. In order for that to occur, people need to get involved. Individuals need to be informed and invigorated to inspire change within their own sphere of influence. Public relations, by definition, fosters two-way communication and conversation between organizations and anyone who takes interest in the work being done. Through writing, campaigns, and speaking, public relations can partner with public humanities to spread excitement and opportunity for world-changing conversations and endeavors.

Through creative promotions and engaging campaigns, public relations practice has the ability to encourage and deepen conversations between public humanities centers and the publics they serve. It requires creativity and inclusive, stimulating language, but with wide-spread effort, public humanities and public relations can mend a long-torn gap of ethics into a beautifully-spun existence of ethical communication. Whether one serves as a PR practitioner or an everyday communicator, by ethically and honestly presenting ideas to enrich society, everyone has the opportunity to change the face of public relations. And, in doing so, we can change the face of the world.

Miriam Thurber: Public Relations

Miriam Thurber is a writer and speaker, passionate about stepping out in faith and changing this world through dependence on God. Visit her website for more information about her book, and check out her personal blog to see glimpses of God in everyday life. Currently, Miriam studies public relations as a sophomore at Messiah College.


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